Divers have a large range of options these days when it comes to choosing a dive destination. To a great extent your choices will be determined by your interests. Whether you’re a cold-water tech diver who wants the deepest wrecks or more of a Caribbean macro-fauna photographer, there are some common features that you’ll want in any dive operation.
First, make sure the organization is reputable. This can come by word-of-mouth from other divers you trust, but if you’re new to the sport or if you’re going to a location not well travelled, then you should consider relying on the endorsement of a professional organization. One of the most common and well-known endorsements in the industry is the PADI five star designation. Only bestowed on the most top-notch resorts or operations, organizations must first pass through the progressive stages and screening exams that PADI administers in order to qualify. Once receiving this, you can rest assured that the operation has met or exceeded PADI’s maximum service and safety standards.
I have personally used this to choose a dive resort in the past, and it ended up being one of the best vacations I’ve ever had. When my wife choose St. Lucia for a “2nd Honeymoon”, it was left up to me to find the dive resort. Fortunately for me, I used PADI’s resources as well as the referral of a friend high up in the diving industry to choose Anse Chastanet/Jade Mountain/Scuba St. Lucia. The dive shop lies just south of Les Pitons, the mountains made famous as the national symbol of St. Lucia. Here is the view from our 3-walled bedroom in Jade Mountain.
Admittedly, the room wasn’t cheap, but the rates for the diving itself were very reasonable, and they have without question some of the most experienced divemasters I have ever met. One guy has logged over 25,000 dives (I’m surprised he hasn’t grown gills.)
From a dive doc’s perspective, one of the most important factor to consider when choosing a resort or operation is safety. Inherent in PADI’s designations is the attention to detail paid by the staff regarding safety. This is not only reflected in divemasters who are confident, capable and experienced; it is also seen in the less tangible safety aspects of an operation that may be overlooked until needed. The most obvious example of this is the availability of supplemental oxygen systems. How often is the 02 checked to ensure proper operation? Are the cylinders rusty? As you can imagine, scratching the surface on an otherwise acceptable dive business can lead to some pretty unsettling discoveries about safety. A friend of mine who was diving in Cozumel a few years ago found out the hard way that the dive operation had no back-up plan in the case of a lost diver. At the end of a dive, he had surfaced with the divemaster and about half of the group, approximately 1/2 a mile from the boat. Due to a miscommunication between the divemaster and the boat, they were not initially picked up by the boat. Thankfully, my friend had a DAN inflatable signal sausage and a surface whistle and was eventually able to find the boat. This is but a few examples of the need to find out something about the safety policies and procedures that each dive operation possesses before going on a trip with them.
Regardless of the aforementioned factors when deciding on a dive resort or operation, don’t forget to consider the most important thing: diving should be fun! Pick a place you’ve never been before, with the type of conditions you’ll enjoy, and make sure to go on the advice of a friend or reputable certifying organization before spending your hard-earned money on what should be the trip of a lifetime.